The Jefferson Hotel’s quiet and cozy Book Room is the perfect spot to ruminate about the state of Washington’s proverbial “A-List.” It’s quiet, comfortable, delectable (given the full English tea, properly served) and also rather inspiring – given that the walls are lined with books both written and inscribed by the hotel’s most famous guests.
KEVIN CHAFFEE: Is it agreed that you can generally tell if someone is “A List” the minute they walk into a room?
ROXANNE ROBERTS: Usually, although some people electrify more than others. Bill Clinton, for example. One always assumed that the political names are the most A-List, but I am starting to think Washington is now more like other cities now that people from other arenas are playing a bigger part.
WINSTON BAO LORD: You don’t see the top sports and business people out at big events all that much – Jeff Zients, for example, an entrepreneur who is now federal chief performance officer and deputy at the Office of Management and Budget. He and his wife, Mary, are a power couple and chair several philanthropic groups. When they do go out, heads turn. Sports people come and go in waves. Alex Ovechkin [of the Washington Capitals] was hot last year; this year a case could be made for [Washington Nationals’ third baseman] Ryan Zimmerman, not only because of his performance in the field, but also his tireless commitment to the ziMS Foundation, dedicated to his mother, who was diagnosed with MS.
SUSAN WATTERS: Socializing in Washington can provide a kind of transparency. When reporters are permitted inside the White House to cover a State Dinner – something the Obamas don’t allow – writers get to share those moments with their readers. The President and First Lady become less isolated, less packaged, more like regular folks.
RR: There has been some criticism of them for their lack of engagement. Going to a restaurant on date night doesn’t count as being part of a town.
KC: The old guard has passed from the scene and no one is left who observes the exacting standards that once set them apart. Can anyone here draw 30 A-Listers to their home now except for [Kuwait Ambassador Salem Al- Sabah and Rima Al-Sabah]?
RR: Adrienne Arsht makes that effort. So few others do.
SW: This president likes being with his staff. In the old days, presidents let the Washington socialites compete to woo their inner circle. The goal prize was to be the first to get the President and First Lady over for dinner, and that usually meant Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham.
KC: True. Nancy Reagan wasn’t partying with David Stockman and Ed Meese. Nowadays I guess staffers are the elite.
RR: People here had unrealistic expectations the Obamas might engage with the community and part of that was a hope they would help to integrate the city more. That has happened – but only as a by-product of the election, not because they’ve reached out socially.
SW: Obama finally got dressed up in his little white tie and went to the Gridiron Dinner where he basically said, “What are you all doing having a high school play? This is all really outdated.” It works for him.
WBL: Politicians are paranoid about 30-second commercials which may take their appearance at a Washington event out of context and be used against them in the next election. It is the unfortunate by-product of how polarizing politics has become. I think Mrs. Obama is engaging with the community and using her bully pulpit, which comes with the added benefit of safe photo-ops to highlight her passions, like the “Let’s Move” campaign. She is not the first First Lady to do so, and hopefully won’t be the last.
RR: I do think that a vast majority of voters realize that you can go to a black-tie event and not be corrupted.
SW: It goes back to a lack of civility. If we had more entertainment, there would be more civility because people would get to know each other.
RR: Those interactions aren’t even taking place at all now, which is why people are more fossilized, more polarized.
WHO’S HOT, WHO’S NOT
KC: Mayor [Vincent] Gray would certainly part the waters if he showed up at an elite party right now, albeit for the wrong reasons.
RR: Prior to the scandal, the mayor would automatically have been A-List.
SW: That’s the difference between Washington and other major cities. In Hollywood, people don’t really care who the mayor or police chief is. They want to see entertainment industry types.
KC: Again, some of the moguls are playing a major role, although most are rather quiet about it.
WBL: Yes, but they are proud of being from Washington and don’t disassociate themselves from it. Ted Leonsis, for example, celebrates D.C. and that’s what makes him a leader here, in business, sports, filmmaking, etc.
KC: Jeremy Bernard, the new White House social secretary, is the new hot “get.” Let’s hope he goes out on the town a bit.
RR: I’ve heard he is a ton of fun. Maybe the fact that he is the first male social secretary…
SW: …means that he won’t be competing with Michelle Obama!
RR: One of the things this town is begging for is to have better relations with administration officials. People want to entertain them and be invited to the White House. The degree to which Bernard engages will be important.
KC: As Susan has already pointed out in Women’s Wear Daily, some guests have been miffed to discover a velvet rope physically separating them from the Obamas during meet-and-greets at the White House.
WBL: It must be the first time that has ever happened.
RR: I hope they get r id of that. Another frustration I am hearing is that entertaining at the White House now seems to be more about photo ops than actually being entertained.
SW: People are turning down invitations because they don’t want to work their way down a long rope line.
RR: Still, I was surprised [Speaker of the House] John Boehner turned down a state dinner invitation for the third time. He should have gone out of respect for his historical role as Speaker as well as the president of China. It is a further dismantling of historic tradition. The longer it goes on the harder it is to repair.
KC: Foreign relations oriented affairs used be completely bipartisan. Democrats showed up for Nixon’s state dinners even during Watergate.
SW: There is a sense of awe and wonder to these state occasions. You never know whom you are going to sit next to at dinner and that makes it special and allows you to feel as if you are part of a bigger tradition. It’s what keeps you young. Now, much of it is lost.
RR: We are all par t of Washington. People look to the city and administration with respect. It’s heartbreaking that politicians are embarrassed by it. That notion is really sad.
WBL: The ability to get along after hours is really important. Look at the relationship that Senators [Ted] Kennedy and [Orrin] Hatch had.
KC: The legislators did try recently with their “dates” from the opposite party on the night of the State of the Union address.
RR: Silly but admirable.
WBL: If it brings back a bit of civility, I’m all for it.
The 2011 A-List
President BARACK H. OBAMA and First Lady MICHELLE OBAMA
Vice President and Mrs. JOSEPH R. BIDEN, JR. (Jill)
His Excellency the Ambassador of Kuwait, Sheikh SALEM ABDULLAH AL-JABER ALS-ABAH, and Sheikha RIMA AL-SABAH
Ms. CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR and Mr. JAMES P. (“JAMIE”) RUBIN
Ms. ADRIENNE ARSHT
The Honorable BEN S. BERNANKE, Chairman, Federal Reserve Board, and Mrs. Bernanke (Anna)
Mr. JEREMY BERNARD
The Honorable and Mrs. JAMES H. BILLINGTON (Marjorie)
The Speaker of the House of Representatives and Mrs. JOHN A. BOEHNER (Debbie)
Mr. BENJAMIN C. BRADLEE and Ms. SALLY QUINN
Mr. and Mrs. DAVID G. BRADLEY (Katherine)
Mr. MARCUS BRAUCHLI and Ms. MAGGIE FARLEY
Associate Justice and Mrs. STEPHEN G. BREYER (Joanna)
Senator SCOTT BROWN and Ms. GAIL HUFF
Mr. and Mrs. CALVIN CAFRITZ (Jane)
Mr. and Mrs. WILLIAM N. CAFRITZ (Buffy)
Representative and Mrs. DAVE CAMP (Nancy)
Representative and Mrs. ERIC I. CANTOR (Diana)
Mr. JAMES (“JAY”) CARNEY and Ms. CLAIRE SHIPMAN
Mr. and Mrs. STEVEN B. (“STEVE”) CASE (Jean)
The Honorable and Mrs. RICHARD B. CHENEY (Lynne)
The Honorable STEVEN CHU, Secretary of Energy, and Mrs. Chu (Jean)
The Honorable WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON and the Honorable HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, Secretary of State
Her Royal Highness INFANTA CRISTINA and His Excellency INAKI URDANGARÍN, Duke of Palma de Majorca
The Honorable WILLIAM M. (“BILL”) DALEY (Loretta)
His Excellency the Ambassador of France FRANÇOIS DELATTRE and Ms. SOPHIE L’HÉLIAS-DELATTRE
Representative and Mrs. JOHN D. DINGELL (Deborah/”Debbie”)
The Honorable and Mrs. CHRISTOPHER J. DODD (Jacki)
Mr. and Mrs. PLACIDO DOMINGO (Marta)
The Honorable THOMAS E. (“TOM”) DONILON and Ms. CATHERINE RUSSELL
Senator and Mrs. RICHARD (”DICK”) DURBIN (Loretta)
Mr. and Mrs. ROBERT S. DUVALL (Luciana)
Mr. and Mrs. KENNETH FEINBERG (Diane)
Senator and Mrs. AL FRANKEN (Frannie)
The Honorable ROBERT M. GATES, Secretary of Defense, and Mrs. Gates (Becky)
The Honorable TIMOTHY H. GEITHNER, Secretary of the Treasury, and Mrs. Geithner (Carole)
Mr. DONALD E. GRAHAM
Mr. DAVID GREGORY and Ms. BETH WILKINSON
Mr. SIDNEY HARMAN and the Honorable JANE HARMAN
Mr. CHRISTOPHER E. HITCHENS and Ms. CAROL BLUE
The Honorable ERIC H. HOLDER, JR., Attorney General, and Dr. SHARON MALONE
Representative STENY H. HOYER
Mr. AL HUNT and Ms. JUDY WOODRUFF
Mrs. VALERIE JARRETT
General JAMES L. JONES, National Security Advisor to the President, and Mrs. Jones (Diane)
Mr. and Mrs. VERNON E. JORDAN, JR. (Ann)
Mr. MICHAEL KAISER
Associate Justice and Mrs. ANTHONY M. KENNEDY (Mary)
Mrs. EDWARD M. KENNEDY (Vicki)
Mr. and Mrs. JAMES C. LEHRER (Kate)
Mr. and Mrs. THEODORE J. (“TED”) LEONSIS (Lynn)
Mr. and Mrs. THEODORE N. (“TED”) LERNER (Annette)
Mr. and Mrs. J. WILLARD MARRIOTT, JR. (Donna)
Mr. and Mrs. FORREST E. MARS, JR. (Deborah)
Mr. and Mrs. CHRISTOPHER MATTHEWS (Kathleen)
Senator and Mrs. JOHN S. MCCAIN, III (Cindy)
Senator A. MITCHELL (“MITCH”) MCCONNELL and the Honorable ELAINE LAN CHAO
Admiral MICHAEL G. (“MIKE”) MULLEN, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Mrs. Mullen (Deborah)
The Honorable JANET NAPOLITANO, Secretary of Homeland Security
The Honorable and Mrs. WILLIAM T. NEWMAN, JR. (Sheila Johnson)
Her Majesty Queen NOOR AL-HUSSEIN
The Honorable LEON E. PANETTA, Director, Central Intelligence Agency, and Mrs. Panetta (Sylvia)
Senator and Mrs. RAND PAUL (Kelley)
Representative NANCY PELOSI and Mr. PAUL PELOSI
The Honorable and Mrs. COLIN L. POWELL (Alma)
Mr. and Mrs. EARL A. (“RUSTY”) POWELL, III (Nancy)
Senator and Mrs. HARRY M. REID (Landra)
Mr. JOSEPH E. ROBERT, JR.
The Chief Justice and Mrs. JOHN G. ROBERTS, JR. (Jane)
Senator and Mrs. JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER, IV (Sharon Percy)
Mr. and Mrs. DAVID RUBENSTEIN (Alice)
Mr. and Mrs. ROGER SANT (Victoria/“Vicki”)
Associate Justice and Mrs. ANTONIN SCALIA (Maureen)
His Excellency the Ambassador of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland SIR NIGEL SHEINWALD and Lady Sheinwald (Julia)
Mr. and Mrs. DANIEL M. SNYDER (Tanya)
Mr. and Mrs. GEORGE C. STEVENS, JR. (Elizabeth/“Liz”)
Mr. DOMINIQUE STRAUSS-KAHN, Managing Director, International Monetary Fund, and Ms. ANNE SINCLAIR
Mr. RICHARD TRUMKA, President, AFLCIO, and Mrs. Trumka (Barbara)
Ms. KATHARINE WEYMOUTH
Mr. ROBERT WOODWARD and Ms. ELSA WALSH
His Excellency the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China YESUI ZHANG and Ms. CHEN NAIQING
Mr and Mrs. JEFFREY D. ZIENTZ (Mary)
Mr. RYAN ZIMMERMAN
Mr. ROBERT B. ZOELLICK, President, The World Bank and Mrs. Zoellick (Sherry)